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BIG DEBATE: Will £250 limit on gaming machines beat gambling addiction?

Placing a bet at the bookies Placing a bet at the bookies

Wednesday, March 5, 2014
8:49 AM

Limits on how much gamblers can bet on Fixed Odds gaming machines is being debated by politicians calling for new regulations for a £250 limit to stop addiction. We ask campaigners and the bookies if it will work after a recent survey of 500 gamblers in Newham found these machines did cause addition. The Campaign for Fairer Gambling’s Matt Zarb-Cousin reveals how he became addicted to Fixed Odds gambling when he was a teenager. The betting industry itself is drawing up a Code of Practice and suggets it can impose its own controls quicker than the government can act.

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Matt Zarb-CousinMatt Zarb-Cousin

Matt Zarb-Cousin, Campaign for Fairer Gambling, argues:

Gambling can be fun — but we have to accept that some gambling products are addictive.

Measures bookmakers have brought in to “protect” players are nothing more than window dressing.

Voluntary ‘time and spending’ limits will be overridden by a problem gambler or someone developing an addiction.

Andrew Lyman, William Hill's Head of Public Affairs and UK ComplianceAndrew Lyman, William Hill's Head of Public Affairs and UK Compliance

A pop-up message on a gaming machine only freezes the game for 30 seconds when a player has lost £250 and may compel them to gamble more to “chase” their losses.

Betting shop staff will be at risk if they intervene when someone has lost £250, as the player is likely to be angry. It is unrealistic to expect staff to be counsellors, especially when William Hill’s and Ladbroke’s operate shops with just one member of staff.

Casino table games had traditionally only been allowed in a regulated casino. But bookmakers took roulette, made it five times faster, turned it into a solitary activity and put it on Fixed Odds Betting terminals which now now account for over half betting shop profits.

I became addicted to these machines and first played them at 16, when I was underage. I developed an addiction and rapid cycle of ‘loss chasing’ and hit rock bottom, losing £16,000 before finally getting treatment.

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling commissioned a poll in Newham last year to see how players behaved while using these machines. Nine-out-of-10 said the machines were “addictive”, while six-out-of-10 had gambled until all their money had gone. This gambling product is a problem which has potential to cause harm, which is why the campaign is calling for a reduction in the maximum stake from £100 to £2, which would bring Fixed Odds machines in line with traditional fruiT machines.

Betting shops would become bookmakers again, with less gambling addiction and staff being safer.

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Wm Hill’s Andrew Lyman, Head of their Public Affairs and Compliance, responds:

Betting shops and particularly category B2 gaming machines, sometimes referred to as ‘fixed odds betting terminals’, have become a political football which politicians of all shades seem to be happy to kick around.

Despite a lack of definitive research, campaigners claim that the machines are “addictive” and have called for more restrictions.

Meanwhile the Association of British Bookmakers and its members, including William Hill, have been working for over a year to implement a Code for Responsible Gambling and Player Protection.

The Code does exactly what it says on the tin. Betting operators do not deny that for a minority of people all gambling products, including gaming machines, have the capacity to cause harm.

That is why we want to increase player awareness and encourage them to only gamble what they can afford.

Many betting shops are community hubs—but spending too much time gambling is also an issue for some.

Therefore we have put at the heart of the Code, technical changes which allow players to set voluntary limits in terms of time and money.

Breaching these limits means screens are frozen and players have time to reflect on their position.

This is underpinned by mandatory alerts when players have been on machines for more than 30 minutes or have lost £250.

We have also provided extra training to front line colleagues that empower them and gives them more confidence to carry out responsible gambling interactions with customers.

An interaction could mean offering self exclusion for a minimum of 12 months, signposting to the National Gambling Helpline, 0808-8020 133, or directing a customer to a treatment provider like Gamcare—or all of these.

We do not want to make profits from problem gamblers. We want sustainable leisure gamblers who only risk what they can afford because they enjoy the social atmosphere of the betting shop and a positive gambling experience.

We are supplying gaming machine data to support independent research. If that identifies any harmful patterns of play, we will move to impose our own controls far more quickly than the government is able to act.

We will have our doubters, but the industry is fully committed to a focussed harm reduction strategy.

Our plea is for people to work with us—not against us—to ensure that a flutter at the bookies does not become a thing of the past.

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